(adapted from Building Partnerships Between Community Groups and Local Government for Our Bushland)
Members of Friends groups are volunteers and have limited time and varying levels of expertise. The key to groups thriving and achieving real gains for their bushland is building a solid partnership with their local Council.
People join Friends groups out of a love for the bush and a desire to see areas protected and cared for. The success of many of these groups has been driven by a few enthusiastic and determined people persisting in the face of growing pressures, often with scarce resources and minimal support.
Groups working in isolation often end up giving up or just limping along. The key to groups thriving and achieving real gains for their bushland is building a solid partnership with their local Council.
More and more Councils are realising that they need to allocate money and resources to looking after their bushland areas. In the National Local Government Biodiversity Strategy Survey Report (p. 4) the first recommendation is:
“Local Governments be encouraged to incorporate environmental values into their corporate visions and strategic plans to facilitate the recognition of natural resource management and biodiversity conservation as part of the core business of Local Government. Councils should therefore be encouraged to adopt financial and incentive mechanisms to support biodiversity conservation activities in council areas.”
In the last few years Councils have been called upon more and more to involve the community in local environmental decision-making and provide support to groups. Many Councils have recognised that by assisting community groups rather than seeing them as a threat that much more can be achieved with limited funds. Thus, by working together both the Council and community can realise much more significant outcomes for bushland than by working in isolation.
Community groups encounter a number of challenges when they start. The main ones that were identified by speakers and participants included:
- Sustaining Friends groups
- Improving communication between the community and the Council
- Involvement in environmental decision-making
Sustaining Friends groups - What support can Councils provide?
Friends groups are composed of concerned volunteers with varying levels of expertise, access to resources and energy. Support from Council is therefore crucial to the survival and effectiveness of thes groups. Councils can assist Friends groups in a multitude of ways including:
- Technical Advice - in conjunction with groups like UBC, SCC, Ecoplan, APACE
- Training - weed management, plant identification etc
- Onground support - supervision, catering
- Administrative support
- Physical assistance - officer time, organise teams of students
- Funding Assistance - helping with grant applications
Working Out How to Communicate with the Council
Problems with community/local government communication stems from two main sources:
- Lack of officer time
- Minimal dissemination of information
The establishment of a formal role of Bushcare Coordinator within Council enables:
- Handling of all enquiries and complaints and explains processes and systems.
- Dissemination of information through a monthly newsletter containing relevant news and information.
The Coordinator is able to convey Local Government appreciation for volunteer efforts.
The ideal situation is to have a Bushland Manager responsible for these activities rather than someone or several people trying to fit all of this in with other environmental or unrelated duties.
The establishment of genuine partnerships between the community and local governments is crucial to achieving effective gains for Bushland. A number of factors critical to the establishment of genuine partnerships:
- Good clear communication and dissemination of information and a willingness to listen to concerns
- Respect for the time and effort volunteers put in ie. volunteers are not treated as cheap labour
- Respect for the expertise of volunteers
- Effective participatory structures and genuine consultation eg EACs
PDF ‘Building Partnerships Between Community Groups and Local Government for Our Bushland’
PDF ‘Local Government and Natural Resource Management: Mechanisms Available for the Protection and Management of Urban Bushland’